OECD Observer
Sense and big data

Data is only valuable when it actually measures something important. 

One would think that, in education, the most useful data would be a measurement of how much learning is taking place. Standardised tests claim to do this, but they largely test a learner’s ability to memorise largely context-free facts that can be used to generate multiple choice questions with one right answer. Yet the results of these tests are being used to determine whether students, teachers, and schools are successful or failing! The obsession with data–numbers, quantitative assessment–has all but eliminated authentic and ongoing formative assessment that is actually useful in understanding and facilitating the learning of each individual–something that standardised tests can’t and were never meant to do!

Learning is so much more than memorising easily testable facts and rules that can be regurgitated on a test. Could anyone sum up their learning as a single test score? A single number? If not, why has the public become convinced that tests measure learning in any meaningful way? Learning can’t be “measured,” but it can be assessed. Parents do this every day as they watch their children grow and develop. Of course, that doesn’t generate the “data” that society has come to believe is “more true” than qualitative observation. Sadly, the data now being used to decide the fate of our children is totally invalid, both in statistical methodology and in what it claims to measure.

Judy Yero, commenting on “How does big data impact education?”, from http://oecdinsights.org, posted on www.medium.com, January 2017

©OECD Observer No 309 Q1 2017